Wouldn’t it be great if there was one easy answer to this question?
I have read so many different answers out there that it can be all a bit confusing.
Here is my two cents worth.
First, I think that to become a successful illustrator you have to first of all have talent. To be totally honest, I receive lots and lots of emails from people who want to be illustrators and I can tell right off the back that their work is not good enough. That might sound a bit brutal, but its true. No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you don’t have that initial talent then for sure you won’t make it as an illustrator.
Providing that you do have the talent, then the work can begin.
My suggestion is to take the time to perfect your style and don’t be in a hurry to put a portfolio or website together. Even illustrators with talent tend to sometimes put less than their very best work up to show. I only like to see the best work, even if that means having a few less images to show.
Once you are confident with your style and feel that you have a real signature to your work then its time to promote.
I believe that promotion is one of the main keys to being successful. The way you market your work is crucial. Even if you are hoping to land a successful rep or agent, you first have to market your work to them. Like I said earlier, I literally get hundreds of illustrators contacting me from around the world and most of the time I am not impressed. But when I am, boy do I react quickly.
The reason I say that I am not impressed is that today in our field it is really a buyers market. There are hundreds if not thousands of illustrators from around the world competing for work. You have to really stand out and shine if you want to be noticed in today’s market and get work. Clients can hire the best of the best from around the world at the click of their mouse. And trust me there is a lot of talent out there.
So how to get noticed? Well stay fresh, stay current and update as often as you can. You would be surprised at all the sites that I see that never update with new work. I have even heard of Rep websites that only update twice a year. I could hardly believe that when I heard. At AGM we update almost daily. In today’s market you can’t afford to be stale.
There are also all of the social networks that I feel are a big part of promoting your work. Its so easy and quick and a great way to spread the word. Personal blogs are also a great idea to tell people what’s been going on. Even if you are not busy, you need to look busy and be busy. Everyone wants to work with a winner and no one wants to work with a loser. Its just part of the game.
I also like to receive newsletters, but not too often. Or a simple email showing me new work.
I also still believe in printed promos if they are well produced. Postcards don’t seem to have the same effect they once did. Printed promos are a great way to get creative and showcase your work.
You can also produce a small quantity with your printer and send them only to important prospects.
We at AGM invest many thousands of dollars in our printed promos and I can assure you that that has added to our success.
My view on source books has not changed in the 14 years I have been in business. I think they are too expensive for what they are worth. Also, personally I never look at books any more and would much rather take a few minutes and source from the net.
Last and not least, I think that competitions are a really great way to get some great free promotion. I suggest that you enter as many contests as you can. Like I said earlier, everyone wants to work with a winner and if your work were to be selected in any of the annuals that come out that would be a really great and valuable promotion for you.
So here are just a few of my personal opinions about becoming a successful illustrator. You can take it or leave it, its totally up to you.
Best of luck! Its a great career if you can make it!